Clark County Today reporter Paul Valencia shares the backstory of the HSD Sesquicentennial Saga, which was finally performed at the June 7, 2022 District Band Festival.
Two years after the pandemic hit, Hockinson Public Schools marks 152-year milestone with “Sesquicentennial Saga”
This had to be special.
It was, after all, 150 years in the making.
Then it turned into 152 years.
For those who were there, who heard this giant piece of music, it was worth the wait.
Hockinson Public Schools has been around for 152 years now, and earlier this month the district celebrated the milestone when the Hockinson High School’s wind ensemble debuted a work commissioned specifically for the occasion.
The original plan was for all of this to happen 150 years after the district opened, but the pandemic put an end to that sesquicentennial party.
Two years later, “Sesquicentennial Saga” was played in front of an audience for the first time.
“It’s pretty epic,” said Hockinson music director Corey McEnry, who conducted the piece. “There are moments that are soft and delicate, but a lot of times there are moments you really crank it up. It’s big and bombastic, a powerful wall of sound.”
All dedicated to Hockinson Public Schools and the community, and all created with a special connection to Camas High School.
John Neumann, Camas Class of 2017, was commissioned to compose the song by Steve Marshall, the superintendent of Hockinson Schools. Marshall used to be the principal at Camas High School. Oh, and McEnry? He is a 2003 graduate of Camas. McEnry and Neumann both played under the tutelage of Richard Mancini, the music director at Camas.
The idea to produce something special musically for the 150th started in 2019. McEnry said he and Marshall wanted to figure out a way to feature Hockinson musicians. Marshall knew Neumann, at the time, was studying music at the University of Washington and also was a composer.
Marshall reached out, giving Neumann details on Hockinson’s history, noting that Native Americans lived there for generations. In the late 1800s, settlers from Finland started the community that it has become today. Neumann said that led him to listen to the works of Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer who wrote several early 20th century anthems.
“I used a lot of his romantic music style for inspiration for this piece,” Neumann said.
While the pandemic put on hold any chance of the piece being ready for the 150th anniversary, all parties agreed that they wanted to finish the project.
The 2020-21 school year began with remote learning. By the time hybrid learning had started, there just was not enough time for Hockinson musicians to learn a new piece, McEnry said.
Th 2021-22 academic year, though, was possible. If the students were committed.
Neumann would send McEnry pieces of the musical puzzle. McEnry would go over it with his students. Together, they would trade notes, ask for a change here, or a twist there.
“As far as the collaboration process, I would tell him, ‘Here’s our instrumentation. Here’s some sections that are pretty strong. Write something that will feature them.’ He’d write stuff, send it over to me,” McEnry recalled. “I’d say, ‘Looks great, looks great.’ That was our process. We went back and forth.”
At an early draft, McEnry noticed something that could be improved.
“I have 14 drummers and they are all really good,” McEnry said.
So Neumann added more drums.
By early June, Hockinson musicians were ready to perform during the ensemble’s final performance of the school year.
“I’m actually really amazed at what my kids pulled off in a relatively short amount of time,” McEnry said. “I was really impressed. They were premiering a piece. It gave them some special ownership. Several came in before school to practice and stayed after school to practice. It was definitely a team effort.”
Marshall stood up in front of the audience to introduce the new music.
“Beyond commemorating the 152-year history of Hockinson, I believe this song is a tribute to the knowledge, to the connections, and the relationships that are strengthened through education,” Marshall said.
He noted that Neumann’s music, McEnry’s instruction, and the performance of the students would honor the generations of people who have contributed to Hockinson’s history.
“More than that, it is my hope that their collaboration inspires us all,” Marshall said.
It was time for the world premier of “Sesquicentennial Saga.”
“It was quite an accomplishment,” McEnry said. “The kids were proud of themselves, and so was I.”
Neumann could not be there to experience it live. He is now the music director at Winlock High School and his band had a concert on the same night.
Instead, Neumann watched Hockinson’s performance soon after on YouTube.
“It went really great. It’s great to hear it performed by a real ensemble,” Neumann said.